Skills Skills Skills: the hackathon solving the Northern talent crisis

Lucy Cousins, June 21, 2018 4 min read

Well sort of. At Tech Nation we procured a dataset with every online job advert on Adzuna from the North of England in the last three years – a whopping 7 million of them. We hosted our first hackathon in partnership with the Open Data Institute Leeds to see what we could find.

Tech Nation and I had never ventured into the world of hackathons – but this skills dataset seemed like the perfect place to start. The concept behind hackathons is fantastic – a group of people with varied expertise come together with a shared sense of motivation and enthusiasm to solve a problem.

Last year I graduated from Code First Girls, a UK alternative skills provider designed to upskill women in front-end development. Shortly after, I was recruited as a data designer for Tech North (now Tech Nation). Since then, the organisation and I have have been learning what’s what in the field of data accessibility. It’s been a whirlwind ride with a lot of learnings, culminating in the data from our latest report being made completely open. Yet we wanted to take this approach of data accessibility one step further. Cue the hackathon. Some of the most interesting results are detailed below.

Top 10 tech sector jobs by number of adverts

Median average salary for each job title is displayed in brackets.

  1. Software Developer (£40k)
  2. .NET Developer (£42k)
  3. Java Developer (£50k)
  4. PHP Developer (£35k)
  5. Project Manager (£50k)
  6. Business Analyst (£45k)
  7. Web Developer (£35k)
  8. Front-End Developer (£35k)
  9. C# Developer (£45k)
  10. Consultant (£60k)

We then compared these figures to the most common job adverts across the entire economy, which includes the tech sector.

Top 10 jobs by number of adverts

Median average salary for each job title is displayed in brackets.

  1. Social Care Worker (£15k)
  2. General Nurse (£29k)
  3. Recruitment Consultant (£22k)
  4. Administrator (£17k)
  5. Software Developer (£40k)
  6. Accounting Assistant (£20k)
  7. Project Manager (£45k)
  8. Manager (£35k)
  9. Sales Executive (£25k)
  10. Primary School Teacher (£32k)

Interesting stuff, right? If you don’t remember anything else, there are 3 things you should take away from all this:

  1. Wage stagnation simply isn’t a thing in the tech sector. At a time when salaries are falling in real terms, analysis of tech jobs reveals wage increases. There is a huge £10k median average salary difference between tech and non-tech jobs.
  2. There is a huge demand for hard tech skills. The generic job title ‘Software Developer’ is the fifth most common in the entire Northern job advert market. It’s more common than primary school teacher, lorry driver, engineer and mental health nurse – all roles we are constantly reminded there are shortages of.
  3. Tech jobs are not just development roles. Project Managers, Consultants and Analysts are all integral parts of the tech sector workforce.  

Job adverts are really just bundles of skills. We use the term skill in a broad way – in some job ads, skills refer to experience in a certain sector, and in other cases, it refers to specialised knowledge. This means that some roles might have the same job title, but when you look under the bonnet, they may be describing a very different mix of skills. So it’s important to not just look at jobs, but to understand their building blocks. Taking this approach has a whole range of benefits compared to other ways that we have traditionally measured employer demand. First of all, jobs adverts are timely – large scale, official surveys have a huge lag because they rely of people responding, and a great deal of cleaning, analysis and sense-checking of the survey data. Job adverts are highly granular – unlike surveys they do not ask employers to pick from a predefined list of broad skills categories. And finally, job adverts are real – they are artefacts of employer demand, not subject to the reporting biases that we see in surveys.

Here are the top 20 most in-demand skills and attributes for all Northern jobs, including tech and non-tech in order:

  1. Communication
  2. Management
  3. Clients
  4. Sales
  5. Customer Service
  6. Solutions
  7. Engineering
  8. Assertiveness
  9. Reporting
  10. Data
  11. Maintenance
  12. Excel
  13. Planning
  14. Telephone
  15. Consulting
  16. Retail
  17. Finance
  18. Policy
  19. Admin
  20. Manufacturing

What strikes me about that list is the number of so-called ‘soft skills’. Yet many of us are not explicitly taught any of them whilst at school. If communication is the most in-demand skill in the Northern economy, why aren’t we dedicating school teaching time to effective communication? The same could be argued for sales and customer service skills. These are the things required to power the labour market, yet there seems to be a disconnect between education and business.

The Future

The term ‘hackathon’ sounds intimidating for non-techies but being experienced with tech wasn’t necessary! Our skills hackers included Kate, Michelle, and Salma – three local residents who said themselves that they had limited tech skills, but they had great ideas in abundance, and a shared passion for the education policy agenda. Salma used to work for the Job Centre, and her experience proved invaluable. We partnered with the good folk at ODI Leeds who helped facilitate the event. Check out this beautiful skills viz made by Stu from the ODI Leeds team.

Going forward, we hope to run more hackathons using the skills dataset, so watch this space! The hackathon webpage with further details of the day can be found here.

Tech Nation Report 2018

In the spirit of data accessibility, I have some great news for you. All data featured in the Tech Nation Report 2018 is available online for non-commercial use by third parties. The data can be accessed through the platform. If you use the data, please let us know. We would love to showcase your work.

If you’d like know why we are doing making this data open, check out our blog.

Data & research, jobs, skills, Talent & Skills, Leeds, Yorkshire